This wiki is associated with Cognito Mentoring, an advising service for learners run by Jonah Sinick and Vipul Naik. The wiki is very much in beta, so you're likely to find many broken links and incomplete pages. Please be patient with us as we continue to improve our offerings.
Please connect with us to offer feedback on the wiki content.
High school: opening message
High school is a critical phase in life. If you make good choices, you can blossom and set yourself up for success later in life. If you make bad choices, you can permanently cripple your future prospects. We're here to help you make better choices. On this page, we give some big picture considerations to keep in mind. Once you've read them, you can proceed to our pages with more details:
- 1 Don't rely on "the system" to guarantee you life satisfaction
- 2 Your high school academic record is important
- 3 Improve your personal efficacy
- 4 Getting into trouble can change your life
Don't rely on "the system" to guarantee you life satisfaction
If you go to school, take the classes that people tell you to, do your homework, and engage in the extracurricular activities that your peers do, you'll be setting yourself up for an "okay" life. But you can do better than that.
The school system wasn't designed to help you achieve your goals. It wasn't designed to optimize student welfare in general: it was cobbled together by many different actors with many different goals, from politicians to teachers to parents to colleges. It often suffers from inadequate resources. Even if the school system were optimized on average, the one-size-fits-all approach it takes means that it wouldn't be optimized for people who differ in any relevant respect from average. Compared with what you can achieve by carefully thinking about what your goals are and how you can achieve them, following "the system" fares poorly.
KEEP IN MIND: Doing well within the system should be treated as a constraint within which you need to operate, rather than a defining feature of your life.
Some subjects are more important than others
High school can give an illusion of democracy between the different subjects you study: they all seem to get equal weight in class time and in grades, so you may believe that all subjects are equally important to study. This is not true even in general: some subjects are more important to study overall, and within each subject, some topics may be more important than what school seems to suggest.
Because the method of exposition and choice of topics in school is likely suboptimal, it generally makes sense to learn the important topics well ahead of time, and deal with the others as needed to do well on the courses.
Further information: Learn ahead in high school
It's important to choose your extracurriculars well
Many common extra-curricular activities (in particular, many school clubs) are not the most productive uses of time. If you go with the flow and sign up for the activities that the people around you are signing up for, you may sacrifice the opportunity to develop yourself and accomplish far more.
Further information: High school extracurricular activities
Consider alternatives to high school
Further information: Alternatives to high school
Your high school academic record is important
A strong academic record in high school is most important factor for college admissions that you have control over. The college that you go to is not the the main determinant of your future prospects, but it's among the most important ones that you can influence while in high school. We give considerations in favor of going to a prestigious college at college selection: factors to consider. If you want to get into a selective college, you'll need to earn high grades in challenging courses. See college statements on the importance of grades and coursework.
Improve your personal efficacy
You can get more out of your high school experience by developing good study habits, managing your time better, and and otherwise improving your productivity. If you struggle with emotional difficulties, in particular, depression, you should take steps to address it.
Further information: Good study habits
Further information: Prioritizing what to learn
Further information: Improving your productivity
Further information: Treating depression
Getting into trouble can change your life
High school is a time when many students engage in risky activities that can get them into trouble in ways that have a major negative effect on their life trajectories. One reason for this might be because they haven't had yet had the experience of suffering the consequences of poor choices. Another reason might be because they're not fully biologically mature and haven't yet developed adult-level impulse control. Whatever the reasons, you should be aware of the risks. See our page on getting into trouble during high school for more thoughts on these activities and the importance of avoiding them.